‘Black Swan’: When the Pretty Became the Paranoid

By Olivia Norwood, Edited by Julia Wilson

Remember when Natalie Portman won an Oscar for playing a deranged ballerina? It was for the Darren Aronofsky film, Black Swan, that may or may not should’ve won for Best Picture and Best Cinematography at the 83rd Academy Awards. But we’re not here to talk about The Academy, we’re here to give this unique and insane story the attention it deserves.

Based in the hustle of a New York ballet company, the fragile Nina (Natalie Portman) strives to prove that she is the best dancer to be the new Swan Queen in their upcoming production of Swan Lake. She soon finds out that envy and wrath comes with the territory of the role. In her journey to achieving her dream, she feels the pressures of being perfect and develops paranoia in the scariest of ways.

The plot is interesting, but what really made this film special was its cinematography, colors, and overall art direction. They’re the aspects that draw a viewer in and make them appreciate its beauty. In Black Swan’s case, the cinematography was done in a cinema veritè style, the colors were pinks, whites, grays and blacks, and the art direction was light contrasting the dark.

Not only is it ‘light vs. dark’ but it’s also ‘innocence vs. temptation’ and ‘perfection vs. imperfection’. Nina represents purity and she rejects anything with impurities. Her life is pretty, pink, and childlike whereas her environment is cutthroat, edgy, and adult. Without making stark contrasts, the cinematography blends the two to allude to Nina’s transformation from White Swan to Black Swan.

But its prettiness doesn’t cloud the horror aspect. It’s still dark and sticks to the theme of paranoia and the hallucinations that Nina experiences. Her competition is her own inner darkness and it’s shown as her alter ego tries to kill her and actual black feathers start to grow out of her skin.

Its scare factor lies in the horrors of mental illness and the fact that all of these nightmarish events are happening inside of her head. The pressures of her passion result in her own madness. Nina is no longer in her right mind and ultimately gives into the dark side of herself.

Black Swan is not a modern retelling of Swan Lake. Instead, it utilizes the themes of the play to create a story about a woman who loses herself and her mind in the midst of maintaining perfection.

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